From NASA to UNT: A Chat With New Chancellor Lesa Roe

Lesa Roe

UNT System Chancellor Lesa Roe, fresh off a 33-year NASA career, looks for ways to boost enrollment, retention, research, accessibility and efficiency. No low-hanging fruit here, she says.

It didn’t take Lesa Roe long to figure out she might be good for the open post of University of North Texas System chancellor after a headhunter called, trying to lure her from her job as acting deputy administrator at NASA. Roe, who grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and was first in her family to go to college, got a toehold at NASA on an internship through the University of Florida, where she studied engineering. At UNT, she’s responsible for 10,000 employees and the Denton, Fort Worth and Dallas campuses. Her portfolio: increase enrollment (10 percent by 2020 to 48,000) and retention, research, inclusiveness, operational efficiency, and employee engagement.

How she became an engineer: There was a software program in high school, and you could put your interests in and see what popped out. I thought I wanted to be a zoologist. Zoology was in there and engineering was in there, and then you could see what they made.

How she funded college: The co-op was a great way. I’d go work for a semester and come back to school for a semester. I lived at home. My parents helped with tuition. I got an engineering scholarship.

UNT interview prep: I watched our board meetings. I did research on the strategic plans we have. I was a hirer of employees at NASA. What did I need? Universities address that.

Finding savings: In shared services, we found around $5 million in savings in the first six months. We put in place a chancellor’s council. Below that, I established those kinds of forums in each area. Now the CFOs from each campus work with the system CFO to solve issues.

Partnerships: There are partnerships with corporations, high schools and community colleges. There are early college high schools. That plays well in Dallas. It plays well in Fort Worth. We’re doing that all across our universities. That ties with corporate strategy. We’re the only system [based] in DFW. Having those partnerships is fundamental.

New scholarships: There are scholarships for incoming students. But students drop out of that last year because they can’t afford it. The Chancellor’s Scholarship is one I’ve established to help.

Pipeline: You need a pipeline across our universities. We only do graduate programs at UNTHSC. But feeders could be UNT Dallas or UNT Denton. If we’re thinking about it, we can help the graduate finish much more quickly.

How UNT's brand is perceived: We have a brand study out right now. We want to know where we are, how we’re perceived in the marketplace.